The Power of the Cross

Homily for March 11, 2018
2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Psalm 137; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

The year was 1957.  The space race between the United States and the Soviet Union was in its infancy.  Mark Chavannes and Al Fielding were excited.  They had designed what they thought was a great product for the space age:  three-dimensional plastic wallpaper!

There was just one problem:  no one else thought it was a great idea.  The wallpaper was a failure.  Chavennes and Fielding tried to sell it as housing insulation.  That failed, too.  They had some modest success using the wallpaper as greenhouse insulation.  Sometime later, however, they had some luck. IBM needed to ship one of its new computers.  They wanted to make sure that the machine wouldn’t be damaged when it was shipped.  They thought that the failed wallpaper might work.

The results were remarkable.  The product—what we know as bubble wrap—became an overnight success.  Today Sealed Air Corporation, the company that Chavannes and Fielding founded, employs about 14,000 people in more than 100 countries.  What was once a sign of failure became a sign of success.

The author of our first reading invites his readers to reconsider the temple in Jerusalem.  Once looted and destroyed by the Babylonians, it would be rebuilt.  What had been a place that reminded Israel of defeat and death would be transformed into a place of new life and hope for God’s people.  What’s more, God would bring about their redemption through the hands of a pagan—Cyrus, the King of Persia.

In a similar way, Jesus invites Nicodemus to reconsider the cross by recalling a story of their ancestors.  When the people of Israel lost faith in God during their journey from slavery to the Promised Land, they were attacked by poisonous  snakes.  Many of them died.  But God had mercy on them.  God ordered Moses to mount a bronze serpent on a pole.  Moses did what God commanded, and every person who looked at the image was saved.

It would be the same with the cross. Nicodemus understood that crucifixion was a horrible and shameful form of execution. Yet Jesus promised that what was a sign of pain, death and condemnation would be changed into a sign of healing, life and salvation.  It was transformed by love—his love for us.

The power of the cross has always depended on two things:  God’s grace and our response.  God’s grace is always available. But we must choose to accept it and receive it—not on our terms but on God’s terms.  When we accept that grace, change our lives, and allow God to use us according to his will, like the “wallpaper” that was put to better use as packing material, what was sin and failure will be transformed into power—for God’s glory and to bless others. +